Opinion: Trump’s Trans-Pacific Partnership Decision a Head Scratcher

Editor’s Note: Matthew J. Grassi is Field Editor with CropLife® magazine a sister publication to AgriBusiness Global. Matthew can be reached at [email protected]

U.S. President Donald Trump has just dealt domestic agriculture interests a tremendous blow, in this author’s opinion, by withdrawing American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

A little background: for the past two years I’ve listened to former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a man I’ve come to greatly respect for his thoughtful temperament and moderate legislative style, practically beg for Congressional urgency in getting TPP approved at his annual appearance at the Commodity Classic show, and it seemed like we were getting close. All politics aside, I feel TPP was, and still is, a good deal for U.S. soybean producers and grain marketers.

I understand this is part of The Donald’s repertoire and mass appeal to his blue-collar base: screw the rest of the world, let’s look out for our interests first and foremost (this in itself is a bit scary, considering how global an industry agriculture truly is, but CropLife is not the forum for that debate). #MAGA

But I’d argue, if you’ll allow me, that if President Trump were truly beholden to the interests of the rural, often employed-in-agriculture Americans that propelled him into office in November (at least here in Ohio, the major urban areas all went Hillary; rural Ohio — where soybeans are big business — overwhelmingly went to Trump), he’d recognize that with this decision he is just making it more difficult for an already over-supplied U.S. grain exporting industry to make the American producer whole again. And with no end in sight to brutal commodity prices that are making it harder and harder for farmers to turn a profit on the acre, that, for lack of a better word, sucks.

It also should be noted that President Trump made this decision without input from a sitting Secretary of Agriculture. Why not just wait for Sonny Perdue to be confirmed by Congress, before making a potentially irreversible decision on TPP? Why the rush, mere days after taking office? Are we legislating by the seat of our pants here, Mr. President? Trying to win the press conference, albeit at the expense of the American soybean farmer?

So. Many. Questions.

Since I’m having trouble expressing myself eloquently here, I’ll let Ron Moore, himself an American farmer and president of the American Soybean Association, say it for me.

“Trade is something soybean farmers take very seriously. We export more than half the soy we grow here in the United States, and still more in the form of meat and other products that are produced with our meal and oil,” said Moore, who farms in Roseville, Ill, in recent comments distributed by the group. “The TPP held great promise for us, and has been a key priority for several years now. We’re very disappointed to see the withdrawal today.”

There are numbers that bare out Moore’s disappointment; I’m not sure anyone from the current administration has given us definitive data (alternative facts, anyone?) that shows just why President Trump opposed entry into the TPP, but I’d welcome such a discussion.

Here’s some data that ASA provided to backup its position on TPP:

According to the ASA release, soybeans are the nation’s largest agricultural export, and markets in Southeast Asia and Latin America continue to grow in their potential as buyers of U.S. soy, as those populations gradually move to a more protein-based diet. TPP countries currently represent about 40% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), and according to the Peterson Institute, American participation would have increased overall U.S. exports by $357 billion by 2030. Specifically for U.S. farmers, TPP would have increased annual net farm income by $4.4 billion, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Anecdotally, many have argued that U.S. withdrawal from TPP will give Chinese agricultural interests a leg-up in the TPP markets, allowing China to negotiate trade agreements that could block future U.S. grain marketing opportunities in the region.

Now, for their part Trump supporters will counter that he intends to negotiate individual trade agreements with each of the key players in TPP, chiefly Japan, but it remains to be seen if he can get it done in a timely fashion. I will admit the man, for all his faults, does seem to have a knack for negotiation. However, as Republican Senator Chuck Grassley recently stated, “it’s just not an easy thing to do.”

Hopefully President Trump can deliver on those trade agreements for U.S. farmers, the same folks that so enthusiastically embraced and supported his campaign in the first place. Right now he seems more interested in initiatives around heavy manufacturing (where he has many business “friends” that stand to benefit) and keeping factories in the country…and tweeting (couldn’t help myself).

I just hope he doesn’t forget about all of the food manufacturing that helps support our way of life here in flyover country. After they turned out in such large numbers in 2016 to support him, he certainly owes Rural Americans more than that.

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